Dead Meadow is a nostalgic trip in excess

More Concerts of Note

Dead Meadow

Dead Meadow with The Not, SkeletonWitch and Dead Sea

Friday · Southgate House

Last year, while perusing a Tokyo (yes, the one in Japan) street vendor's crate of artifacts, my uncle found a bootleg VHS tape of a daylong concert at Crosley Field. The year was 1970, the concert was the Cincinnati Pop Music Festival. Yeah, it caught his eye because of its location in his hometown, but, just as importantly, the tape featured a rare early performance by his beloved Alice Cooper. Viewing it today is like a trip to Mars. Even when edited heavily (each act gets three or four songs), every band on the bill — Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain, Traffic, among others — rambles on way too long, the likely result of one too many backstage bong hits. And Alice? He was even more fucked up than usual, and worse yet, minus his trademark, post-"I'm Eighteen" stage theatrics. It's utterly unbearable. Yeah, I know, you had to be there. But besides the often fascinating snapshot of a bygone era (they really did say "man" every other word), some wonderfully clueless between-act banter by some WCPO square head (they carried the festivities live) and an amusing semi-performance by a peanut-butter-smeared Iggy and the Stooges, it's a complete waste of time.

By now you're surely asking why I'm recounting this little-known event in our city's musical history. Well, there's a band playing at the Southgate House Friday that would be right at home on the bill: the aptly named Dead Meadow. That might sound like a diss after the aforementioned tale, but it isn't. Seriously. While the D.C. trio's third full-length, Shivering King and Others (Matador), is a similarly nostalgic trip in excess (it clocks in at a very '70s-like 62 minutes and features lots of fuzzy, guitar-based atmospherics), the record also transports one to a place few bother to tread these days: the imagination. The shimmering slow-burn epic "Shivering King" is a perfect example. I've listened to it a couple dozen times over the last week, and I'm still not sure what it's about, nor do I care. It takes me to a different place each time. Besides, I've heard it live (the band made a stop at Northside Tavern last year), and it, like, rules, man. Seriously. (Jason Gargano)

Dark Star Orchestra

Saturday · Bogart's

I got into music for one reason: To play in an Iron Maiden tribute band. Nearly all music careers start with some sort of emulation, but few find long-term success on this path. Enter Dark Star Orchestra, not just any Grateful Dead tribute band, but THE Grateful Dead tribute band. They carry this mantle not only because of their musical prowess, although that is abundant. It's their borderline obsessive/compulsive devotion to re-creating Dead shows in their entirety that earns them the crown. Almost every night they play, the set list is borrowed from a date in Dead history. By doing this, they revive not only the music, but also the anticipation, mystery and institutionalized variety that drew tens of thousands of Deadheads to attend show after show. DSO keeps the set they are playing a secret until the night of the performance. They only reveal it afterwards, in fact, so that all the amateur Dead historians in the audience can test their set-list identification skills. The DSO members even go so far as to lug several instruments, amps and drum setups around on tour so they can use the authentic instrumentation, right down to brand of gear. Knowing that, fans with encyclopedic Dead knowledge can guess from what era the set will be upon examination of the stage setup. OK, so DSO shows make for great drinking games, but how do they sound? Outstanding. They even incorporate subtle changes in their playing to reflect what the Dead sounded like at a particular show. And following a trend that's catching on (particularly on the Jam band scene), DSO have started recording shows and offering the audio as a three-disc package for sale on their Web site, so if you really dig the show you can purchase it for posterity. The $22 price tag is a little steep, but if they do 8/31/78 Red Rocks on Saturday, count me in. (Ezra Waller)

Joe Bonamassa

Tuesday · Bogart's

Even in the virtuoso guitar camp, populated with the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, six-string magician Joe Bonamassa turns heads for any number of reasons. At 26, he's been playing guitar professionally for more than half of his life. A guitar prodigy at 4, he assembled a group of adult musicians and began playing near his Utica, N.Y., home by his 12th birthday. After opening for B.B. King, the Blues icon touted the youngster in subsequent interviews, calling him a "legend before his time." At 18, Bonamassa joined Bloodline as the only member of the aptly named Rock group who was not descended from a musical legend: guitarist Waylon Krieger (son of Doors guitarist Robbie), bassist Berry Oakley Jr. (son of Allman Bros. bassist Berry Oakley) and drummer Erin Davis (son of jazz legend Miles Davis) were his bandmates. Bonamassa's restless creative nature led toward a solo career, resulting in his stunning solo debut in 2000, A New Day Yesterday, wildly acclaimed as the work of an emerging genius and Bonamassa was clearly on the chosen path. Since then, he has toured relentlessly with his astounding power trio and recorded not only his sophomore album, So, It's Like That, but a live album and DVD as well. Perhaps the greatest quality that Bonamassa possesses is an unquenchable desire to learn more about his instrument. Rather than content himself with flashy riffs and endless, noodly solos, he's a student of the guitar and of music itself, constantly seeking out new styles and subtly incorporating them into his own guitar vision. We have only just begun to hear what Joe Bonamassa is capable of with a guitar. (Brian Baker)

Swell with Campfire Crush

Tuesday · Southgate House

It hardly seems possible that 2004 will find guitarist/vocalist David Freel and drummer Sean Kirkpatrick celebrating the 15th year of making music together as Swell. The San Francisco duo shimmered into existence in 1989, uniting in the context of their mutual admiration for textural noise Rock, psychedelic-flavored Pop and the atmospheric film work of Ennio Morricone. After self-releasing their first album, Well?, in 1990, and busking their way through a summer in Europe, Freel and Kirkpatrick returned to the States to play their first actual live gig opening for Mazzy Star. And so began the long and twisted history of Swell, complete with a constantly revolving membership, six studio albums and one rarities package, a label deal with Rick Rubin's Def American, sporadic touring to promote it all and the inevitable internal friction and long hiatus. Kirkpatrick left the band and moved to Santa Barbara three years ago, leaving Freel to explore Swell as a solo recording project with 2001's Everybody Wants to Know. Kirkpatrick ultimately rejoined to the fold and the pair began to assemble, in spite of the physical distance between them, their 2003 return to form, Whenever You're Ready. The new album is filled with the band's most recognizable sonic touchstones; Freel's laconic vocal delivery (like Beck on a pocketful of downs) and a soundtrack that drifts lazily between trippy Dream Pop, noisy Art Rock, texturally ambient artifacts and the uncanny ability to weave it all together into a seamless whole. Although Swell has been criminally overlooked (like Jerry Lewis, they are highly regarded in France), this is a band that truly blossoms live. This is destined to be one of the shows that people are still talking about at the end of the year. (BB)

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